Of the 36 delegations present at the Oral Update of the UN Human Rights Council held on March 29, only eight were critical of the Kingdom’s civic and personal space while the 28 spoke in favour of the situation in the country, according to the Cambodian Permanent Representative to the UN Office in Geneva.
In a press statement released on March 30, the mission’s head, An Sokkhoeurn, said the 28 delegations had recognised Cambodia’s efforts, progress and achievements in promoting and protecting human rights.
“Many [delegations] lauded the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, including the [achievement of a] high rate of free national inoculation, its rollout, and social protection schemes for vulnerable groups,” he said.
He added that the delegations also recognised the Kingdom’s progress and achievements in advancing the roles of women in leadership, entrepreneurship, peace and security, and promotion of children’s rights.
Sokkhoeurn noted that among the 28 delegations were ASEAN members who, he noted, had appreciated Cambodia’s efforts with regard to electoral reform, political space and plurality of political views to ensure that the upcoming elections are free, fair, orderly, peaceful and transparent.
He said several delegations had stressed that the working methods of the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia should be objective, balanced, non-politicised and non-selective, taking into account the perspective of the government, national circumstances and the importance of reliable, verifiable sources and factual information – in reference to the appointee Vitit Muntarbhorn’s comments on the “regression” of civic space in the Kingdom.
The Oral Update on March 29 saw further critical comments from the special rapporteur, who reiterated his belief that civic and political space in Cambodia has “receded and regressed due to what is effectively all-intrusive single-party rule”.
Vitit also called on all authorities in Cambodia to respect fundamental human rights and international human rights laws to which the country is a party, including the basic freedoms of expression and assembly.
But Sokkhoeurn hit back, saying that though the Cambodian government had “genuinely cooperated” with Vitit through a series of 19 dialogues last May, his report “does not set the record straight” and was “far from flawless in terms of objectivity, impartiality and non-selectivity”.
Sokkhoeurn said Cambodia, though a small country, has demonstrated relative freedom by being home to more than 2,000 digital and traditional media outlets – including critical ones – alongside nearly 6,000 trade unions and almost 6,000 registered NGOs.
“The human rights agenda is rarely a sprint, but rather, is a marathon run with commitment, effort and progress. Neither can it be expected to be perfect. This topic should be debated on the basis of statistics and efforts, and not perception,” he said.
Eight delegations had criticised Cambodia on its constrained civic and political space, lack of freedom of expression and absence of peaceful assembly.
Nevertheless, Sokkhoeurn said, “almost all” of them welcomed Cambodia’s long-standing cooperation and constructive engagement with the UN human rights mechanisms, as well as its socio-economic progress and “considerable” efforts to implement electoral reform.